Tighter restrictions around dining at restaurants and bars has led to a considerable increase in establishments applying for temporary patios, according to the City of Calgary.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, city officials allowed restaurants and bars to add additional seating capacity on the sidewalk and street outside.
As of March 31, a report to city council showed a 262 per cent increase in businesses applying for temporary patio permits.
For the second year in a row, fees for those applications have been waived by the city.
Leader of the Business and Local Economy team with the City of Calgary, Sonya Sharp, said 75 temporary patios have already been set up this year, with another 140 waiting in the queue for approval.
“We knew we would see an influx,” Sharp said. “There’s nice weather coming, and we want to make sure we’re supporting the business community, and we’re moving at a speed that we know we need to cater to them right now.”
One of the recently installed temporary patios just opened up at Kensington Pub, expanding its outdoor capacity from two tables to eight following the provincial announcement that indoor dining would be banned as part of the reinstatement of certain COVID-19 health measures.
“As soon as they made the announcement that indoor (dining) was closed, we weren’t expecting the patio until the end of April,” pub manager Nancy Porteous said. “We got it within five days.”
Despite the financial relief and streamlined application process, restaurants and bars continue to struggle as cases surge in Alberta.
According to the Alberta Hospitality Association, 45 per cent of the industry doesn’t have access to a patio, and capacity is extremely limited without seating inside.
“For restaurants, its been so hard just with the patios open,” association president Ernie Tsu said Thursday. “It’s been hard for restaurants again, operating at about 20 per cent capacity.”
Meanwhile, Bonterra Trattoria in the Betline opted to not expand its patio capacity, and decided to instead invest more in the permanent patio structure behind the restaurant.
Bonterra’s general manager said space is limited with physical distanced tables and plexiglass, but the restaurant managed to find room for 55 seats.
The restaurant’s one concern is the city’s unpredictable weather, and its impact on patrons.
“It can be sunny and snowy all in the same day,” general manager Curtis Gallinger said. “I think that will be our biggest challenge because if something comes through, the guests really can’t go inside. According to the regulations, we’re supposed to let them sit and bear it out.”
Some establishments have been forced to get creative, building structures with a roof and walls with large windows that can stay open when patrons are seated at the tables.
Tsu said those structures are causing some confusion for the industry under current health guidelines.
According to Alberta Health, patios and dining areas must been a set of criteria to be considered an outdoor space including:
Alberta Health also said that umbrellas and pergolas are not considered rooves and fences and half-walls are not counted as walls.
“We have a meeting with them this week and hopefully we can have a bit better of a definition as to what is a patio or not,” Tsu said.
The hope moving forward for restaurants and bars is for COVID-19 cases in Alberta to drop, and for vaccinations to ramp up by the summer, which could allow for restrictions to ease and indoor dining to be allowed once again.
“They need this patio so they can get any kind of revenue they can get in,” Tsu said. “(Then) they’ll have the indoor dining and the addition of the patio, still with COVID restrictions, to give them more capacity.”
Last year, the fee relief for patios helped 142 establishments serve customers while complying with health measures.
–With files from Global News’ Adam Toy